A couple years ago right before a spin class started, I was catching up with my friend Amy, who had recently made a trip to the Eastern Shore, where she and her husband had rented bikes for a morning ride on the boardwalk. She told me it was nothing like riding a stationary spin bike -- instead, it was true catastrophe.
Amy and I are a lot alike (disaster-prone), and this thought wedged itself into my memory, vaguely resurfacing whenever I thought about buying a bike to ride around Baltimore, or whenever I toyed with the idea of training for a sprint triathlon (and I thought running would be the hard part...HA!)
Still, I never put much stock in it. I'm a klutz, for sure, but I mean, how hard can riding a bike be?
When Jen asked if I wanted to do a day-long bike tour at Versailles on our Paris trip, I said yes without hesitation. Amy's tale resurfaced in my brain, and so I decided I'd borrow my roommate's bike before we left for Europe and go for a couple spins around the block, just to make sure I could.
But the summer came and went, I never saddled up, and Paris was upon us. Still, I didn't give it much thought. I'm young, athletic...I work out for like 10 hours every week! I could do this, no problem.
The day before we went to Versailles, Jen and I tackled three museums, one of which was the Louvre. Here's a travel tip: DON'T DO THAT. I took a museology course in college once and learned that museum visitors max out at about two hours. Of course you could spend DAYS in the Louvre, and we started our day there and followed up with D'Orsay and the Rodin Museum.
So the next day we were all achy ankle muscles and travel-scrambled brains. (Not a bad feeling, of course, but maybe not the most physically conducive state for bike-riding.) We got up bright and early to grab a coffee at a sidewalk cafe before we were to meet our Bike About (highly recommended) tour group at Notre Dame.
Unfortunately, the day wasn't the beautiful day one would hope for when riding around on a bike. The skies threatened to open up and pour nonstop. Jen grabbed a poncho beforehand and suggested I do the same.
But did I listen? No.
I hate ponchos. They are sticky and humid and they smell like the inside of a dirty water slide at Sea World. I'm too cool for ponchos; I'd rather ride around France looking like a drowned rat than wear a poncho. And ride around like a drowned rat I did.
We took the train to the area surrounding Versailles while it rained, but it seemed to clear up when we got off the train and headed for our bikes. We were set. The tour guide gave us our bikes and droned on about the day ahead of us. He discussed things like "bells" and "gears," while Jen and I did much more important things like take selfies.
I hopped on my bike. Not particularly comfortable. The thing was old and I don't think it was set up properly considering I knew right away that I would probably have trouble sitting down the next day.
I was nervous too. Our group was about 10 or so people, enough to not go unnoticed if you, perhaps, cannot ride a bike even though you signed up for a bike tour. Everyone was older too. Jen and I were the healthy, fit, young ones -- the type of people who should not have trouble on bikes.
To top it off, our tour guide reminded me of my celeb crush du jour, Eddie Redmayne (I was ALL about "Les Mis" and Marius Pontmercy at that moment...vive la France!), not really someone I wanted to fall off a bike in front of.
But the truth is, I didn't really care about making an ass out of myself. This happens on a daily basis pretty much, and I am all out of fucks to give. The REAL concern was that we were supposed to ride from outside the train stop to a market where we were to pick up food for a later picnic. And this market was in the middle of this quaint little town, full of adorable French children and people walking around like they were in the middle of Belle's provincial town in "Beauty & the Beast" (the one she whines about in her song...Belle, you're a city girl, I feel you).
You know the town I'm talking about -- THIS ONE -- a town full of happy people you might run over while you're riding an uncomfortable bike in first gear (because you weren't paying attention to what to do with your gears) downhill on a cobblestone path full of said adorable happy French people. All I could think to myself was "I AM GOING TO DIE AND TAKE A POOR SWEET BEBE DOWN WITH ME AND ALL OF FRANCE WILL BE LIKE GODDAMN AMERICANS WHY DO WE LET THEM IN HERE?!?!"
I let everyone go ahead of me, and as I stuttered my way to a start, some random French man on the side of the road looked at me, and said, "Oy." Same meaning in every language.
And then the sky opened up again and by the time we got to the market, about six minutes away, my stomach was in knots, my knees were shaking, my clothes were soaked through, and my forearms were already sore from my death grip on the bike handles.
I somehow reached the market unscathed, and Jen and I got crepes, bread, cheese, chicken, fruit, and a bottle of wine, which I told Jen she would have to carry in her basket to avoid a tragic loss of a perfectly good bottle at the hands of me, a 28-year-old who apparently couldn't ride a bike.
Thankfully, that was the last bout of truly terrible rain that day, though showers continued as we saw Versailles.
It was amazing -- a truly wonderful tour in a spectacular place. I learned so much and could absolutely see why Kanye West felt the need to illustrate his small-penis syndrome for everyone to -- oops, I mean have his rehearsal dinner there.
I fell off my bike once or twice. And I may or may not have run into a parked car once. Jen laughed. Everyone laughed. Har har har.
Then I may or may not have run into a parked bus. Jen didn't laugh. Instead she said, "Are you doing this on purpose?"
If only, Jen. If only.
So on the train back, when our tour guide offered to give the group a Paris at night tour the next evening, my stomach, finally unknotting, seized up again. Of course we would go. It was our last night in the City of Light, and the Versailles tour was so great, we knew a Paris one would be as well.
But I won't lie to you. I secretly prayed all day that all the bikes in the world would spontaneously combust and we could do the tour by foot.
No such luck.
I did better the second night. I was more relaxed. The group already knew I was a disaster, so no pressure there, and my bike was better suited to my height. I also figured out the gear situation.
But you know what Paris is full of? Those little half pole things that come up out of the sidewalk for no apparent fucking reason other than to make you ride your bike through them. Don't know what I'm talking about? I drew a diagram for you.
Somehow, I navigated THAT clusterfuck. I even successfully managed the Champs Elysees, which is like riding on the sidewalk through SoHo on a Saturday afternoon, fuck you very much.
So I was feeling good as we approached the Eiffel Tower. That is, until the guide said "Watch that curb, don't fall."
The moral of the story? Take a few practice rides before you go on a bike tour.
Or you know...training wheels.